Netanyahu Is Pandering to the Religious Right

In the previous election campaign Benjamin Netanyahu promised change, but back then he was in the opposition and wanted to return to power. Now, when he’s asking the voters for four more years as prime minister, his campaign slogan should be “No change,” “I don’t want change,” or simply “Netanyahu. The status quo.”

The prime minister has refrained from raising the voters’ expectations in the race for the 19th Knesset. Likud’s website has no trace of a platform, promises or positions. It has instructions to candidates, registration forms for would-be party members and a breakdown of expenses for the primary. A search for the previous election platform refers us to Netanyahu’s personal site, where we find an announcement that the site is “under construction.” No rush.

Netanyahu shouldn’t underplay his promises from 2009. If you check Likud’s previous election platform, you’ll see he kept quite a few of them.

He said he’d mobilize international public opinion to escalate the sanctions against Iran and prepare the Israel Defense Forces for attack, and he did. He said he’d act to raise the Palestinians’ standard of living, and it rose. He spoke out against unilateral withdrawals, and he didn’t withdraw. He promised that Israel’s students would reach the top 10 in international exams, and their performance has improved. He wrote he would take care of the crime families, and they’ve dropped out of the public agenda.

His failures are in economics. Netanyahu promised to reduce VAT, but he raised it. He promised a reform in the Israel Lands Administration, tried to carry it out, but it got stuck. He spoke about other reforms and an infrastructure revolution, but it didn’t happen.

The previous platform was entitled “A free economy with social sensitivity,” but the sensitivity arose only when tens of thousands marched in protest. He’s ending his term with a large budget deficit and a leap in defense spending.

Netanyahu’s critics hold him responsible for Israel’s international isolation due to his insistence on building in the settlements and the absence of a peace process. But from his office things look different. He enjoys looking like someone who holds his own against strong forces. As far as he’s concerned, the world’s condemnations of his announcement on advancing construction in the E-1 area only strengthen him.

He hears the shouts and stays the course. What a man. The talk about undermining Israeli democracy and gagging opponents under his rule doesn’t bother him. On the contrary, Netanyahu is appealing to voters who want a strong state and can’t stand the leftists who criticize the IDF.

In the absence of a platform or election posters, as other parties have, Netanyahu’s campaign is being conducted on a Facebook page. Every day he uploads a photo of himself in a kippa, a skullcap, lighting Hanukkah candles at the Western Wall, or with soldiers, or sitting next to his wife Sara at the Bible quiz. He even added a menorah and dreidels that he drew himself.

“I heard the other day that the Palestinians say the Western Wall is occupied territory,” Netanyahu told his friends on Facebook, beside his picture with the menorah at the Western Wall. “I want to tell them: The Western Wall has been ours for 3,000 years and it and Israel will remain ours forever.” This promise won nearly 13,000 likes in under 24 hours.

It’s interesting that Netanyahu only heard the other day that the Western Wall sits behind the Green Line. Maybe he was also told that in the peace talks last decade the Palestinian leaders agreed to leave the Wall and the Jewish Quarter in Israel’s hands.

But what does it matter. This is an election campaign, and in an election campaign you have to promise that “we’ll keep Jerusalem” and teach our children about Jewish tradition. That’s the response to Naftali Bennett, who says what Netanyahu thinks without inhibitions and without considering what the rest of the world will say. Bennett threatens to steal voters from Netanyahu.

So they take the black kippa out of the drawer and show the voters that Netanyahu also lives in the Jewish home, as it were, habayit hayehudi, as Bennett’s party is called. They do this so they can get through the election with minimum risk, for four more years of treading water.

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